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GRE Test Structure

by Fitzalan Gorman

The Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is a standardized test that most graduate schools require as part of your admission’s application. The results of this test show the admissions office how likely you are to succeed in graduate-level classes. The structure of the GRE varies if you take it on a computer or paper, but both feature analytical writing, verbal and quantitative sections.

Test Format

The GRE has six total sections. The analytical writing section always comes first on the GRE. You complete two verbal and two quantitative sections, which can appear in any order. The computer-based test takes about three hours and 45 minutes; you are allowed a 10-minute break following the third section. The paper-based test takes about three hours and 30 minutes; you are allowed a 10-minute break following the second section.

Analytical Writing Section

The analytical writing section tests your ability to think and write critically and analytically. It does not test your knowledge on any specific subject. It features two tasks: analyzing an issue and analyzing an argument. In the first task, you are presented with an opinion on a general topic and are provided instructions on how to respond. You evaluate the topic and develop an argument with examples to support your point of view based on the instructions. On the second task, you evaluate a given argument according to specific instructions. When writing your response, logic and soundness are more important than agreeing or disagreeing with the argument. You have 30 minutes per task on both the computer-based and paper-based GRE.

Verbal Section

The verbal section tests your ability to comprehend and analyze reading passages. These passages can be on a variety of subjects including social sciences, natural sciences and humanities. The verbal section has three different types of questions: reading comprehension, text completion and sentence equivalence. Questions are presented in a multiple-choice format. On the computer-based GRE, the verbal section has two sections with 20 questions per section. You have 30 minutes to complete each section. On the paper-based GRE, you have two sections with 25 questions per section. You have 35 minutes per section.

Quantitative Section

The quantitative section tests your ability to complete high school-level math problems. This includes algebra, arithmetic, data analysis and geometry. It does not test trigonometry or calculus. Calculators can be used. This section features three question formats: comparisons, multiple choice and numeric entry. On the computer-based GRE, you have two quantitative sections, each with 20 questions. You have 35 minutes to complete each section. On the paper-based GRE, you have two quantitative sections, each with 25 questions. You have 40 minutes to complete each section.

About the Author

Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.

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